Litsch gets tagged for loss late vs. Rays

Litsch allows pair of costly mistakes

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was the second homecoming for rookie pitcher Jesse Litsch and while the former Devil Rays batboy pitched well, it didn't compare to his last performance in which he tossed seven scoreless innings.

This time, on Sunday afternoon, not nearly as many Litsch supporters were a part of the 20,556 in attendance at Tropicana Field, as the Blue Jays dropped the series finale to the Rays, 3-2.

In addition, Litsch gave up three solo home runs before being relieved in the sixth inning without recording an out. And once Carlos Pena had smacked his 38th home run to give the Rays a 3-2 lead, the damage was done.

The Jays couldn't muster any more offense against Rays starter James Shields, and relievers Dan Wheeler and Al Reyes, and lost their second consecutive game.

"It's a nice thing and all, but I'm out here to get a job done and I didn't do that today," said Litsch, who grew up in nearby Pinellas Park. "It was pretty special the last time out, but it's not fun when you're losing."

Litsch, who went to local high school Dixie Hollins and spent time as a batboy for the Devil Rays during the 2001-02 seasons, pitched brilliantly in his first appearance as a Major League player back on July 31.

On Sunday, he admitted he wasn't as strong as the last time he pitched here.

"I started out shaky and I was trying to battle through it the whole game," said Litsch, who has won just once in his last six starts. "I missed my spots and threw some mistake pitches."

The first mistake came when he surrendered a solo homer to Brendan Harris in the second inning.

The Jays tied the game in the third when they strung together some hits and then took a 2-1 lead when Aaron Hill smacked his 15th home run of the season off Rays starter James Shields.

The home run by Hill moved him within two of Roberto Alomar for the team record of 17 for second basemen.

"I didn't know that until now," said Hill, following the game. "It's nice, but it's selfish to think about when the team is losing. Nothing seems too nice when you're losing."

Hill's performance was the highlight of another lackluster offensive showing from the Jays. Meanwhile, the Rays continue to impress late in the season.

"Aaron's had a tremendous year," said manager John Gibbons. "He's certainly our MVP, both offensively and defensively. It's too bad we couldn't put anything else up on the board."

The Rays reclaimed the lead for good in the sixth inning. First, Carl Crawford towered a shot off Litsch to deep center that struck the catwalk of the dome. Pena followed with a solo drive on a 2-2 pitch that cleared the right-center wall near the stingrays aquarium tank.

"Both mistake pitches, simple as that," said Litsch. "I just missed my spots. They were both fastballs in the wrong location."

Despite scoring two runs off Shields, they struggled to mount much of anything else against him, reliever Dan Wheeler and closer Al Reyes, who saved his 23rd game.

"Shields is one of the better pitchers in the League," said John Gibbons. "He shut us down and the score looked a lot closer than the game was."

"They have a good, young ballclub. They have a lot of good, young players who just outplayed us."

The series loss was a disappointing way to leave St. Petersburg, considering how, after the opening-game win on Friday, the Jays were in striking distance of the Wild Card-leading Yankees. Now, after two straight losses, coupled with the Yankees continuing to win, the Jays are making a trip to the postseason more difficult.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.